On social issues, Sen. Dan Sullivan and I are not on the same page. I love Planned Parenthood. It was my primary venue for health care for years. I've donated money. I have a sticker on my laptop that says "I Stand With Planned Parenthood." So I, along with many other pro-choice Alaskans, was tremendously disappointed with Sullivan's vote last week that worked to cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
But Shannyn Moore's attack in her column on Sullivan for his vote was so personal, vitriolic and offensive, that I felt the need to respond. In fact, if the Alaska Dispatch News applied its own standards that it has for commenters to its columnists — standards which bar "repeated incivility" and "personal attacks" — then I wouldn't have to respond at all. Moore's column would be taken down.
What Moore wrote about Sullivan in no way resembles the kind of civil discourse the ADN supposedly trumpets, and the kind that is so necessary in our country right now. It is a personal attack, it is vicious, and it is in the tasteless model of Donald Trump, Rush Limbaugh and Breitbart News. Indeed, it appears that Moore has joined the dangerous, and growing, cadre of people who believe that if you don't like a person's policy position, but apparently can't be bothered to debate an issue on the merits, then attack the character of the person proposing the position without regard to facts or reality and hope that saying it loud enough and frequently enough makes it true.
First, Moore trots out the tired line that Sullivan is a carpetbagger — the one that was used repeatedly during the campaign against former Sen. Mark Begich, and the one that didn't work on Alaskans. It certainly didn't work on this Alaskan. I played on a softball team with Sullivan on the Park Strip in 1999 when he was clerking for Chief Justice Matthews. I practiced law with him at a local law firm in Anchorage 16 years ago. My daughters jumped on the trampoline at his home when they were young. And when he did leave the state, he did so to serve his country.
I've known Sullivan for a long time, and I disagree with him on multiple policy issues. He is conservative. I'm not. But I am grateful that Sullivan is able to articulate his principles consistently and thoughtfully. No one can accuse him of being wishy-washy or saying different things to different audiences.
Secondly, Moore makes the outrageous claim that his vote is an indication that he "doesn't give a damn about the people he supposedly represents." What I know about Sullivan is that his vote likely reflects some combination of his personal and religious values, political calculus and the opinions of constituents with whom he interacts every single day. Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted to support Planned Parenthood. I dare say that her vote reflected the same combination of factors.
But just because the end decision on how to vote came out differently for each senator does not make the one you disagree with a "political mercenary" or "a craven political hack" or a soldier in a "War Against Women." It means his views are different. It means his principles and yours don't line up. And it means that he talks to different constituents than you do.
Dan Sullivan was instrumental in the state of Alaska's "Choose Respect" campaign against domestic violence and sexual assault. Seven years after that campaign began, he has remained committed to it. Last year, he authored a bill that passed the Senate which would facilitate more pro bono legal service to victims — an initiative that we worked on together when he was in the state. Last week, he reintroduced that bill.
With his wife Julie, he has raised three strong and smart daughters who are role models to young girls in this state, including my own. He has demonstrated a commitment to women in ways different than how Shannyn Moore might understand or appreciate, but that doesn't mean that Sullivan's commitment doesn't exist.
You would think that a regular columnist for the state's largest newspaper would be required to at least try to understand why a large number of women in Alaska voted for, and continue to support Sullivan. After all, shouldn't informed dialogue be the standard for the Alaska Dispatch News? Isn't that what Alaskans were promised when Alice Rogoff bought the paper in 2014?
It takes hard work and a lot of time — and a basic sense of fairness — to understand the arguments, logic and philosophical drivers of people with whom you disagree. Moore has not demonstrated any interest or record of doing this. Instead, she takes the easier and lazier approach by calling someone names and spewing offensive and hateful unsupported rhetoric. Alaskans and the Alaska Dispatch News should require more before giving someone like this a platform.
Ideally, those who are influential in our government, our media and our communities will be thoughtful, careful, genuine, and offer some insight into the difficult political and policy challenges we face. Moore's column failed on all fronts.
Jessica Graham is an attorney who lives in Anchorage with her husband and three children.
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